Modern Arts

With only a few exceptions, painting did not become a developed art form in Vietnam until the beginning of the last century, when the country was under French rule. The colonists established an art school in Hanoi with a curriculum heavily biased towards French art, and particularly expressionism, an influence that is still clearly be identifiable in Vietnamese works today.

The ‘social realism’ period
The spread of communism, and the growing influence of the USSR, led to a period of social realism. During this period, the purpose of artistic expression was to further the revolution. By definition, other forms of art were counter-revolutionary. Thus, the soft images of derivative French Expressionism were replaced by graphic depictions of heroic peasants, Viet Minh soldiers, factory workers, and propaganda poster exhortations. The Fine Arts Museums in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have many examples of the genre.

Sculpture, architecture, film, theatre – all were directed along the social realism path, oblivious to artistic movements taking place elsewhere in the world.

Post ‘doi moi’
With the advent of doi moi, the open door policy, social realism was put to one side to make way for a flowering of suppressed Vietnamese artistic expression. Although much of the art in the mushrooming galleries of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is highly derivative, a new Vietnamese art style is emerging.

A fusion of western styles and Vietnamese traditions expressed in a range of media as diverse as lacquerware, furniture, silk painting, calligraphy and ceramic is increasingly apparent. Many Vietnamese artists now attract international attention and can command prices in the thousands of dollars for their artwork and sculpture.

Other artistic forms have yet to benefit from the Vietnamese renaissance. Publishing, public art, public performances and television are still tightly controlled.

The cinema
Film making has been a state enterprise since it began. Films were sponsored by the government on minimal budgets, usually around $US 60,000. Despite a lack of money, and primitive equipment, some Vietnamese films received international accolades, but even they failed to gain a popular audience in Vietnam.

Recently, a film breaking new ground received a licence for distribution. Instead of a worthy, innocuous theme ‘Bar Girls’ portrayed the life of young women working in dance halls and dealt with contemporary issues such as prostitution and drug abuse. Box office receipts eclipsed those for Hollywood blockbusters, usually the cinema’s staple fare.

Recently, the government has allowed private cinema companies to operate, opening the way for a new film industry aimed at meeting public demands.

The youth generation
Vietnamese pop music is a curious blend of 'middle of the road' soft rock with highly sentimental lyrics, and is the mainstay of the ubiquitous karaokes. Karaoke singing is highly popular: families and businesses often have their own machines. A wide range of Western pop is available on very cheap pirated CDs and DVDs. Some of the famous international girl and boy groups are popular, but there is no doubt that Vietnamese youth, and their parents, prefer the home-grown version.

There is little sign of the raunchiness associated with European and American tastes, nor any apparent desire to express a specific identity for youth through Western-style shock tactics and exhibitionism. The teenage rebellion has yet to arrive in Vietnam – if it ever does!

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